France is Putting the “F” into “Failure”

A while back I wrote a post on how the French educational system isn’t exactly entrepreneur friendly. And this is just based off of my simple observations and personal experience at a French university. Now that I have attended university in the US, France and the UK, I can say with complete certainty that French professors are by far the harshest with their students when it comes to mistakes. One would think that they get joy out of making their students look ridiculous – even when they make the smallest of errors. I’ve even heard some “feedback” from professors that could make one borderline suicidal. Not exactly what I would call educationally encouraging.

Learning imperfection ?

So, the French grading system makes it literally impossible to get a perfect score in most cases. Students are taught that they cannot be perfect – in all honesty, I quite like this approach but I cannot imagine going through grade school with the impression that I could never get 100%. This rather unhealthy relationship with mistakes, failure and imperfection starts in French classrooms and manages to breed its way throughout various aspects of life – one of them naturally being in the workplace. So when French entrepreneurs start to look a little wobbly, they’re already being told they’re failing.

Failure: some like it not, some like it hot.

What’s hilarious about this is that making mistakes is perhaps the best way to learn. I’m not saying that someone should strive for failure – but when mistakes are kindly pointed out and corrected, it makes for incredibly effective learning. Failure is therefore natural and healthy. One shouldn’t have a fear of it or be ashamed of it – especially not as an entrepreneur, where projects are constantly evolving and being adjusted.

Good job, nice try.

In the US, it’s almost to the other extreme. I remember that sometimes when we would make mistakes in grade school, teachers would still encourage us and say things like “good job” and “nice try.” It made us feel comfortable with sharing our opinions and trying things, even if they were wrong. And if someone can still respect you – even when you make a mistake – it serves as a huge boost of confidence.

Let’s talk about failure, baby.

So now it’s been a few months that I’ve been in touch with Cassandra Philips, who organizes a number of awesome conferences in the Bay Area – including FailCon, a conference dedicated entirely to failure. The last edition of the conference in San Francisco included speakers from companies like Foursquare, MySpace, Revision3, Etsy and Zappos. I imagine you’ve heard of some of those names, right ? Yes, even the best of the best make mistakes. So we are currently in the process of organizing the first European FailCon to take place in Paris later this year*. We’re hoping to get a number of local entrepreneurs to step up and talk about their failures alongside some of the American and international entrepreneurs. Oh, and obviously we’re also encouraging investors to participate and share their thoughts on the value of failure, too.

FailCon 1, FailCon 2.

So FailCon will make its stop in Paris later this year – but before then, Microsoft France is also hosting a mini-FailCon on the 1st of February with some big names in French entrepreneurship, like Gilles Babinet (he’s on my list of 9 French Entrepreneur Names to Know). Hats off to Gilles by the way for being the first incredibly well-respected French entrepreneur willing to share his thoughts with everyone in the French entrepreneurial community – that is huge. I’ll also be moderating and helping to introduce the FailCon concept to the local crowd. Participation is free and you can RSVP directly on the Facebook event page.

Best successful failure stories.

So now I’m on a hunt for the best successful failure stories. There are definitely tons of fantastic examples in the music space, like Deezer or Jiwa (who is set to relaunch very soon). If you have suggestions of failure stories, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments.

*Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in sponsoring or participating as a speaker for this event.

Advertisements

The French A-list

I get lots of local entrepreneurs contacting me, wondering who exactly in France has money in the bank. So just like with the Le Best of French Blogs post that I wrote-up a while ago, it’s perhaps time for a French A-list (or angel-list). Well, here it is kids. These are some names  (in no particular order) that I’d want to be talking to if I was looking to fund my company in France. Obviously, some of these people are also behind funds like ISAI, Jaina and Kima but that doesn’t mean they don’t also invest à titre personnel.

1. Oleg Tscheltzoff.

The CEO of stock photo giant Fotolia, Oleg is honestly one of the few people I’ve met that can just tear a business plan apart. He’s funded over a dozen projects this year, including Dealissime, Leetchi , Restopolitan and PeopleforCinema.

2. Xavier Niel.

Xavier is arguably France’s hottest angel. And don’t just take it from me – an article published in le Journal Du Net in May claimed that he’s invested in over 150 companies, including Leetchi, OpenERP and Deezer. Damn. I mentioned him in an earlier post as one of the 9 French entrepreneur names to know. And if you don’t know him by now, he’s not only the mastermind behind Iliad/Free and makes-up half of the Kima Ventures team with Jérémie Berrebi.

3. Jérémie Berrebi.

Naturally, if I’m going to mention one half of Kima, I’m not about to ignore the other. Berrebi is also a very active investor. Even if he isn’t physically based in France, I’m impressed by what he’s managed to do for local startups from Israel. He’s personally invested in companies like Kwaga and Architurn.

4. Marc Simoncini

Meetic’s current CEO and founder of Jaina Capital is perhaps somewhat less active than Kima’s Niel and Berrebi but still amongst the French investor elite. He’s backed companies including Ouriel Ohayon’s Appsfire, Catherine Barba’s Malinea and Zilok.

5. PKM

The famous face behind Priceminister (acquired this year by Japanese Rakuten for €200 million) is also part of the “entrepreneurs investment fund”, ISAI. He’s one of the many investors in Pearltrees, Novapost and YellowKorner.

And the beat goes on.

There are obviously many more names that I could add to the list, including Kelkoo/Wikio-founder Pierre Chappaz, Vente-Privée founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Allociné’s Jean-David Blanc and miore. However these last few appear to be somewhat less active in terms of investments than those listed above. Deezer’s Jonathan Benassaya is also an up-and-coming business angel to add to the list.

Too many cuisiniers.

One thing that I’ve noticed lately is that more and more of the French business angels are coming together for collective investments. Recently, Restopolitan (essentially the French Opentable alongside the likes of LaFourchette and TableOnline) announced a €1 million round with what’s being called the investor “Dream Team”: Oleg Tscheltzoff, Marc Simoncini, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Jonathan Bennasaya…pretty much the whole gang, quoi. The photo below didn’t happen to go unnoticed on Facebook or in the press either – it’s Restopolitan’s founder, Stéphanie Pelaprat, surrounded by the company’s beautiful bank account. But still, many people are wondering if too many A-level cuisiniers or investors will spoil her startup soup.*

Young Money.

In honor of the theme of our recent TechCrunch France event, the “young” generation of web entrepreneurs and services oriented towards the 15-25 age-range, I’d also like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to 2 of the younger business angels in the space: Fotolia’s Thibaud Elziere and MyMajorCompany’s Simon Istolainen. I don’t think either of them are giving Xavier Niel a run for his money just yet, but it’s definitely nice to see the younger generation giving back to the entrepreneurial community. I could probably also include Berrebi in the youngster investor list too.

Feel free to add additional names to the comments.

*In English, the expression uses “soup” and in French the expression uses “sauce”.

I’ll Show You My iPhone Apps If You Show Me Yours…

A while ago, I bought a netbook – a Sony Vaio, to be specific (mainly for price, removable battery, size and pixel reasons as a traveling blogger). I tweeted my purchase, not really expecting anyone to care all that much. It was more just to pass time as I waited in line at the FNAC. But turns out quite a few people did care. Perhaps there are also people that also care that I use Jolicloud as my netbook OS (virtual hi-five to Tariq), have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, that I don’t own an iPad (yet) or an iPhone4 and that I have actually purchased songs off of iTunes – sad, but true.

Now, maybe you’re wondering what apps I have on my iPhone?

So here are the stats: I currently have some 108 applications on my iPhone and I delete and download rather regularly. I prefer not to pay for the app unless it’s really something special – which means yes, I have purchased apps. The most expensive app I have ever bought is probably in the €4.99 range.

Back to basics.

I’ve got a number of apps for news in English and French, including The New York Times, Le Monde, Les Echos, Challenges, NPR News, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc. Then I’ve naturally got to keep up with my tech blogs in French and English, which means I’ve also got a few names like TechCrunch (naturally), VentureBeat, Presse Citron, Korben, Journal du Net, Journal du Geek, Guy Kawasaki, etc. And then I’ve got Facebook, Linkedin, Skype and Yammer (to communicate with the TechCrunch gang – by the way, I just adore Yammer). I recently added Viadeo, even though I’m not particuarly active on that network, because it is hard to tell whether Linkedin or Viadeo is the network of preference for the French scene.

Birdy Nam Nam.

For Twitter, I use Twitter’s app – I actually tested a whole ton of Twitter client apps (Echofon, Seesmic, Twitterific, etc.) on the train from Marseille to Paris and happened to like Twitter the best, even though there are still a few missing features and it just started crashing on me yesterday (bad Twitter, bad). Seesmic was a very close second – so I keep it on my phone just in case. The Twitter app that disappointed me the most was Echofon, which happened crashed on me when I was at a conference. As a blogger, that is perhaps the 2nd worst thing to forgetting my laptop charger. I should keep this in mind if the Twitter app I currently use doesn’t get its act together.

An American in Paris.

2 apps that have dramatically changed my life are Pinger Textfree and iConvert. I use Pinger to text everyone in the US for free when Orange was trying to slap on extra euros to my monthly bill for international texting (I’m a huge texter). And iConvert I use for anything from keeping tabs on the euro/dollar exchange rate to properly cooking in grams and milliliters.

I get around round round get around I get around.

Apps I use to get around Paris and such include the standard Google Maps and RATP lite – a free application which maps the Metro lines. I’ve also got the Voyages-SNCF application on my phone for TGV tickets and the Velib’ application for the nearest bike-share stations – even if I’m not the biggest Velib user on the planet. 2 more apps I recently added just to make my life easier are Comuto‘s carshare application and Taxi Bleus for taxi reservations – but I haven’t had an opportunity to actually use either of their services yet. And of course Pages Jaunes, aka the Yellow Pages, is always good to have if you’re looking for an address.

I’m the Mayor of nowhere.

Travel and news-related apps are probably the 2 biggest categories of applications on my iPhone. I’ve also got a few geo-social apps, like Submate, Foursquare and CheckMyMetro – which is the Foursquare for the Paris Metro. I should have Plyce too but the truth is, I’m just not a huge user of geo-social. Well, not yet. Anyone who is my friend on Foursquare knows this. It’s kind of like how I’m not a huge user of online chat (Gchat, Skype, Facebook, etc.) – it’s nothing against the service but more the fact that I use it for one-off situations rather than on a regular basis.

Paris, Paris.

When it comes to exploring Paris, obviously I love the MyLittleParis app  for discovering hidden places and things to discover (yes,  I covered this for TechCrunch). For more classic touristy info, I downloaded Paris à Pied – the free app is supposed to provide info on museums, parks, etc. but hasn’t really done much but crash on me several times. Not très cool. Then again, there are other paid apps that are probably better quality but I didn’t bother to look into it. I do find it odd that the Louvre is one of the few local museums that actually has its own app though. I guess when it comes down to it, there is really no better app for discovering Paris than the Guide du Routard’s app (€4.99) – I especially like section on free stuff to do in Paris.

Not exactly in the bag.

If you’re thinking to yourself: wait a minute, she’s got no shopping apps on her phone – you’re right. There are naturally tons of apps for shopping (Vente-Privée‘s app is a huge hit) but this hasn’t really sunk in to my system yet. If I’m going to buy anything on my phone for now, it’s probably going to be a TGV ticket.

Oh là là, c’est oh-so-French.

I did download a few apps that are pretty much France-only apps. One of them is the Ticket Restaurant app, which lets you see which places near you accept Ticket Restos (which I discussed in an earlier post). There is also Clopclop (which recently came out only for iOS4) – a similar idea but for finding cigarettes or open tobacco shops. I’ve also got iPharmacien for finding a near-by pharmacy – but haven’t used it yet (PS: if anyone has good medical apps, let me know).

Yum yum.

French food is a must so I’ve got a few apps for restaurants and recipes. I bought Marmiton’s application because I just love the recipes on the site. The application is also just beautiful and insanely helpful while grocery shopping. Then I’ve got the Guide de Restaurants (by lintern@ute). And for reservations there is TableOnline (am I going crazy or are Restopolitan and La Fourchette MIA from the App Store?). I’ve got Qype, Yelp and Dismoiou on there too but haven’t really dug into using them yet for social recommendations – but I will. According to Alloresto’s website, there is an iPhone app for take out but it isn’t in the App Store…

Pass the time away.

Of course the geek in me has a few games and rather stupid apps too – I naturally have Tetris and Fat Booth and a couple other random games that I hardly use. I have a few education apps as well – one on sushi, one on French sign language and the Corsican language app I cannot stop talking about. I’ve obviously got dictionaries, translators, a few quiz apps (history, geography, etc.) and Wikipedia on there as well.

Why, Europe, why.

The one app (and service!) that I am perhaps most sad about not being able to use in Europe (aside from Netflix, which has very little to do with iPhones) is Pandora Radio. I was a HUGE Pandora user in the US. So then you’re probably wondering what music application I have on my phone – Deezer? Spotify? Answer: both. Although I’ve been a Deezer user longer than a Spotify user, I’ll admit it. I also have an iPod for my iTunes – which I don’t play on my iPhone to keep it’s rather pathetic battery in shape.

The price is right.

2 great little apps that I have on my phone, Pikadeo and Mobiletag, let you get more info on what cinema is playing a movie by photographing a poster or which store sells a particular item for the best price by identifying the bar code. Both French companies, both fabulous applications. But not 100% fool-proof, FYI.

It’s showtime.

My all-time favorite application is Allociné’s iPhone app – for movie times, locations, tickets…and previews ! Even if I don’t have time to go see a movie, at least I can easily keep up to date with what’s playing and effortlessly watch the trailer.

A very-close 2nd-favorite application is either Shazam or Melodis’s Soundhound – which identify random songs you hear playing in bars, restaurants, etc. I hate that they’re both capped at 5 free songs/month so I like to switch between the 2 (*insert evil laugh here*) to get 10 songs for free. 🙂 Between the 2, I actually prefer Soundhound because at least there are ways you can EARN more free songs without buying packages or subscriptions. Clever.

That’s (not) all folks!

Obviously I didn’t name all 108 applications on my phone – but I definitely covered a fair chunk of them. I’d be interested to know what absolutely essential applications I forgot – especially for someone living in Paris. Feel free to add to the comments and let me know…

13 hot French entrepreneurs under 30

I’ve been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while – because whenever someone tells me that it’s insanely difficult to launch a start-up in France, I chuckle to myself and think: “Hey, if 20-something-year-olds are doing it fresh out of school, it can’t be that hard, right?” I also have recently noticed that becoming an entrepreneur from a young age is becoming more à la mode – so here is my list to set the record straight.

Hot or not?

The trouble is there are actually a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. This list is insanely far from exhaustive and is just a few names that I think are likely to stick around for a while. As the entrepreneurial community is predominantly male, I should also probably clarify that by “hot”  I am referring strictly to their start-ups. After all, this is not my attempt to be the Franco-version of Valleywag. PS. You’ll notice that I’ve chosen 8 companies and 13 names.

1. Jonathan Benassaya & Daniel Marhely (Deezer).

The Deezer boys are behind one of the hottest – if not the hottest – online music company to come out of France. While they are still incredibly young, Daniel (25) and Jonathan (29) kicked off their entrepreneurial careers in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Yep, Daniel was still a teenager at the time.

2. Eric Bennephtali (MediaStay).

As the story goes, this 26 year old started his internet career in middle school. He then went on to drop out of school at the age of 13 to launch the internet performance marketing company we currently know as MediaStay – which is also the publisher of games sites like Kingolotto and Grattages. Yes, that makes another one for the drop-out club!

3. Ronan Pelloux & Julien Mechin (Creads).

The 25-year-old team is behind the online participative ad and logo creative platform, Creads, that gives internet allstar Gilles Babinet’s Eyeka a run for its money. Oh, and the 2-year-old company already counts international offices in Spain and Japan.

4. Simon Istolainen (PeopleforCinema, MyMajorCompany, Architurn…).

Yes, he’s been an entrepreneur since 2008 and the 25-year-old is already on his 3rd company (he just announced Architurn, after MyMajorCompany and PeopleforCinema). The participative investment platform model seems to have been very good to him, in both the music and film distribution spaces. But my favorite part about this kid’s success story is that he studied the farthest thing from entrepreneurship and tech in school: that’s right, anthropology.

5. Céline Lazorthes (Leetchi).

Leetchi is the first company of this 27-year-old lady and she’s already got big names like Oleg Tscheltzoff, Jérémie Berrebi and Xavier Niel backing her platform for group gift purchases. Nice.

6. Stéphanie Pelprat (Restopolitan).

The 26-year-old founder of a French company, Restopolitan, that dares to compete with OpenTable has entrepreneurial energy spewing from her veins. As she’s got a few more tricks up her sleeve, she’s not likely to disappear.

7. Boris Saragaglia, Paul Lorne, Jérémie Touchard (Spartoo).

The Spartoo trio (Boris pictured) started right out of school, back in 2006, when the sum of their ages was less than 75 (I’ll let you figure this one out). Today Boris (27), Paul and Jérémie run the très successful French/European equivalent to Zappos. These kiddies also scored €12 million in January. Hello, Jeff Bezos?

8. Hadrien Gardeur & Loic Roussel (Feedbooks).

The 26-year-old team (Hadrien pictured) started their digital publishing/distribution platform, Feedbooks, back in 2007 with a very international vision. The company definitely knows what it’s doing in the English-speaking market, as does Hadrien who is brilliantly bilingual.

More than Mark Zuckerberg.

There are definitely numerous companies that I could add including the boys at Owlient, Ykone, Cafédelabourse or the coed team over at Likiwi. And another one that almost made the list: Benjamin Bejbaum from DailyMotion. Feel free to add more youngster entrepreneur names that come to mind in the comments.

Best of French Start-ups on YouTube

Ah, I should say best of French start-ups on DailyMotion, shouldn’t I? Truth is, I wanted to use DailyMotion videos but a lot of the content wasn’t on their site. Tsk tsk French start-ups for not supporting each others’ businesses! Then again, in this Google-dominated internet world, who can really blame them.

YouTube, iTube.

I just thought I’d do a quick post on 5 of my favorite YouTube videos from French start-ups.

Deezer. (@deezer)

This is hands down my favorite French start-up video on YouTube. It tells the story of Deezer’s creation, the legal obstacles they had to overcome with music on the internet. Great music, great story, great animation.

Regioneo. (@regioneo)

This video probably lacks a little punch (maybe could use a background tune?) but I still really like it. Sorry to any non-French speakers who can’t understand it. Essentially, it explains Regioneo’s platform and was the video used to launch their crowd-funding campaign. I think the presentation is simple and quite well done. And another one that deserves a mention here is Pearltrees(@pearltrees) – although the video definitely could use a bit of music as well. Great animation though and nice accent!

MXP4. (@theremixculture)

Maybe cool videos are easier to make for music companies? MXP4 does a fantastic job at presenting its platform in an original way with a terrific French artist, Pony Pony Run Run.

Submate.(@submate)

The start-up may be brand new but the first time I saw this video on their website I was absolutely sold – what a great and upbeat way to introduce the platform. French start-up DelivrMe (@delivrme) that lets you receive a package anywhere has a terrific video along the same lines as well.

Appsfire. (@appsfire)

Ha, this video cracks me up but Appsfire does a very good job of bringing cool and geek together to launch their App Awards competition. Low-cost creativity. I like it.

And obviously I have to give all-time creative credit to Meetic (@meetic), even though their adds were on TV and not strictly on YouTube. But hey, there’s more material to playwith in the online dating space.

Pardon my French

The French for some reason get a lot of crap about their English. Ok, it’s got a little ring to it but that’s not really anything to write home about.

Accents are charming. Period.

What’s not charming, however, is limited market reach – which you unfortunately get if you’re going to limit yourself to a non-English language. I can’t even count the number of times I have discussed the topic – if you want to go global in today’s world, you kind of have to speak English, too. Duh.

Dictionary bilingue.

I actually think that French start-ups understand that they need to be bilingual. France has made remarkable progress, linguistically – and the TechCrunch Paris event that was held entirely in English last week goes to prove it. Plus, I think I’ve brought up before that there are numerous local start-ups, like Silentale, that don’t even have French on their websites.

I still, however, stand by Deezer’s French Twitter account – which was attacked by Robert Scoble last year at LeWeb. Seriously, would Deezer have 11 million users if their Twitter didn’t address the local population? Don’t think so. I sound like a broken record…

Unpronouncable.com

So while French start-ups are definitely beginning to think more global – they should also make sure their company name doesn’t handicap them. After a conversation I had earlier with someone at Advent Venture Partners (funded French companies like DailyMotion), it became more than apparent that French companies may also be limiting their growth by selecting English-unfriendly names. And yes, English speakers are particularly good at butchering beautiful French names – like Vente-Privée, or anything with a “privée” in it for that matter. But on the flip side, this type of name may work in the luxury industry, as French names carry a certain marketing weight that English names never will.

But hey, this isn’t specific to France. Another example of a company that may eventually have a pronounciation identity crisis is Germany’s Qype – or even Xing (can we not just put a “z” in it already?).

Dismoiou (Tellmewhere) is one of the few French companies that I’ve seen that has actually gone out and translated its name for the respective markets. I find this to be another interesting approach that Dismoiou has actually executed very well.

Shame on you, Steve Jobs.

And no – American companies are not fool-proof either when it comes to internationalization and language. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked how to correctly pronounce “Linkedin” in France (it’s leenkt-in).

But one thing that really shocked me was the iPhone (yes, I dare to criticize the almighty Empire) – which is surprisingly French-unfriendly given its particularly wide adoption in France. Ok, so it’s no secret that typing on the iPhone keyboard requires ridiculous talent. But for French speakers wanting to include accents in their emails or texts, it’s essentially game over. It may seem minor but the devil is in the details. I don’t know what lousy or malicious engineers designed that layout for Apple – but they surely weren’t French.